Herniated disks are among the most common work-related back injuries. Between the bones of your spine are rubbery structures called disks that provide cushioning and help to facilitate movement. Disks are similar to jelly donuts in that they have a tough cartilage layer outside and a gel-like substance inside. If there is a tear to the outer layer, the inner layer can leak out.
How can you tell whether your back pain is due to a disk herniation or something else? If you suspect that your back pain resulted from work, you should see a doctor right away. He or she can perform a physical examination and imaging studies to confirm a herniated disk and/or rule out other causes. However, there are hints that your pain may be due to a disk herniation from the quality and location of your pain.
According to WebMD, pain from a disk herniation tends to get better at rest and worse with activity. Even a sudden, involuntary movement, such as sneezing or coughing, could worsen your symptoms. Disk herniation can occur at any level of the spine but is most common in the lumbar region. Therefore, pain in the low back is suspicious for a herniated disk, although it could have other causes as well.
Disk herniation is also one of the most common causes of sciatica, which is pain that results from pressure on the large nerve that runs from the spine down through the buttocks and into each leg. Therefore, pain that radiates from the hip throughout the lower extremity could be a symptom of a herniated disk.